Volume 22 Issue 9, September 2018


On the campaign path, the PTI promised much, in fact too much. It now faces the daunting task of keeping its promises in a very tough to govern state. Will it succeed in doing so?

The party faces numerous constraints on its ability to succeed. Despite a favourable climate, it won with a slim margin from a controversial poll only after coopting footloose recent entrants and independents and small parties with little loyalty. It may not have to partner with any major party but other major parties may gang up to give it a tough time. PML-N’s poor external deficit record may mean dealing soon with IMF conditions that produce 2008-13-like stagflation. Its laudable desire of having good regional relations may be vetoed by its hawkish patrons that perhaps aided its win. The USA may make action on the Taliban a condition for an IMF loan. Legislatively, the PTI lacks a two-thirds majority in NA and a simple one in Senate. Acrimony among parties and across parties and unelected institutions is high. The power of unelected institutions to form an alliance against elected ones to influence policy has increased. The image of courts stands tarnished and the media’s freedom curtailed on sensitive issues. Finally, new extremist parties have entered the Sindh and Punjab houses and threaten to expand their influence.

But the party will face high expectations from its vocal middle-class supporters, given its promise of a new Pakistan. So numerous are the delivery areas facing it that it is tough to even list them cogently. All elected regimes ultimately aim to help improve the lives of people. So enhancing the ability of the majority to meet basic needs must be the new government’s first priority. But that includes a very long list of sub-sectors: income, food, health, education, housing, sanitation, water, energy, human rights, security (from terrorism, extremism and crime) and transport. Population, climate change and environment are cross-cutting issues closely linked to basic needs. And in a country rife with inequities, the prime focus has to be on those marginalized by ethnicity, gender, faith, age or other basis.

But this challenge quickly leads to two prerequisite challenges. Since the state will have to play a key role in directly addressing basic needs, Imran Khan must revitalize state institutions. The key priorities here must be the Parliament itself to make it the prime source of initiatives on all fronts, followed by the justice system (accountability bodies, lower courts and police), tax collection bodies, local governments and loss-making state enterprises.

Strong economic management to create a dynamic economy that plays a leading role in meeting basic needs must be another priority. That too produces numerous sub-challenges: rebuilding foreign reserves; addressing the fiscal and eternal deficits by increasing tax and dollar revenues; revitalizing industry and agriculture to increase jobs and exports; reducing debt; and increasing savings and investment. Each of these subsumes many sub-issues.

But PTI’s focus on these issues could easily be diverted by other challenges. Domestic politics could be the first diversion. This would require proactive management of party and coalition fissures; forging constructive relations with a strong opposition and addressing its credible charges of pre-poll and poll-day rigging; and finally managing civil-military or, more broadly, now elected-non-elected institutional fissures. Foreign policy threats could also divert inordinate energy from addressing domestic challenges. Proactive management of relations with Afghanistan, India, US, China, Saudi Arabia and Iran and pushing for regional peace would be important.

Thus, basic needs, institutional reform, economy, domestic politics and foreign policy are the five broad key areas of challenges confronting Imran Khan. All of them are inextricably inter-linked. Basic needs are the ultimate priority but the economy, domestic politics and foreign policy may take up most of the time of the top leadership. Under each, the list is so long and the needs so high that it is a challenge to differentiate immediate priorities from medium and long-term ones.
But getting off to a good and quick start would be important. A new team, but with too many old faces is already in place to manage popular expectations in these areas. Sacrificing merit to address party and coalition fissures in selecting the team could prove counter-productive. The team needs to temper expectations by producing a convincing and realistic plan to address the challenges that differentiate between immediate, medium and long-term priorities. The plan must include constitutional and legislative changes, policies and strategies, institutional reform and projects in various areas.

Within basic needs, Imran’s priority must be presenting convincing and feasible strategies in the areas of water, health and education. Within institutional reform, he has already announced bold and realistic plans for reforming local courts and police, strengthening tax collection bodies and local governments, and revitalizing loss-making state enterprises. In economic management, his plans for quickly shoring up foreign reserves and presenting plans for increasing the tax base through progressive measures represent inescapable immediate priorities. In domestic politics, he must quickly establish a parliamentary commission to address the genuine concerns of opposition parties about rigging in the polls. This will help in reducing doubts about the popular mandate and getting the cooperation of the opposition for legislative work given the slim victory margin.

In KP, where the challenges were fewer, the PTI’s record was mixed, with a few pluses but also many minuses. The key reasons for this mixed record were low capacity, colourless leadership from Imran, constant party in-fighting and a lack of strong political will at the top to not blink in face of pressures to abandon merit and reform. The government will have to overcome these internal challenges in order to address the national challenges. Otherwise, it may fail like PPP and PML-N and meet the same electoral fate in future.

The writer is a political economist, a Senior Fellow with UC Berkeley and head of INSPIRING Pakistan, a progressive policy unit. He can be contacted at murtazaniaz@yahoo.com
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